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LeagueTLC Innovation Express
Exploring Issues, Innovations, and New Developments with Information Technology Professionals

Project Connect:

Early Intervention for At-Risk Students

Christine Adams
Jean Walden
Project Connect Directors

Like many community colleges, Berkshire Community College (BCC) faces growing numbers of incoming students who are under prepared for college-level work or unprepared for the realities of college life. This lack of skills jeopardizes their ability to succeed and persist in college. And like most community colleges, almost one-half of students who enter BCC drop out during their initial year; while over 75% of incoming students fail to graduate. Knowing the numbers, BCC and Berkshire County High School faculty (BCHS) have created a new game and a new opportunity for educational investment. As a two-week summer program, Project Connect has made a dramatic impact on campus life and has increased the academic performance and persistence of at-risk students.

Program Development
A fundamental key to Project Connect's success is collaboration. Initially established through a team of BCHS and BCC faculty, Project Connect is open to graduating seniors from all twelve Berkshire County high schools admitted to BCC for fall semester courses. Program learning experiences are built on an interdisciplinary balanced core of necessary academic and college-wise social developments. 

Collaborative Team of HS & BCC Faculty
In its first year, representatives from eleven of the twelve Berkshire County high schools and ten BCC faculty met for monthly workshops to identify the needs of at-risk students and design targeted support services assisting student transition from secondary to postsecondary education. A proactive summer immersion program was seen as a greater investment to increasing the potential of a successful start rather than working through a net of spiraling mid-semester challenges.

As Project Connect curriculum requirements were formulated, it was clear that what had been designed was rigorous and credit-worthy. The college's Educational Affairs Committee concurred, and the summer program became BCC 103, carrying three elective credits. 

Project Connect Admission & Participant Benefits
The primary requirement for participation in Project Connect is approved freshman 
standing to BCC for the forthcoming fall semester. Promotional materials are disseminated through area high schools and community organizations, and at immediate glance pose the critical and compelling question to potential students:
            Why give up two weeks of work or summer vacation for college?

The printed response poignantly underscores purpose:
                      Because there's no better deal, that's why!

The benefits of the program are clearly listed and relate to students' immediate needs and long-term advantages:
   Earn three college credits at no cost 
   Experience the realities of college at no risk
   Connect with other students and with BCC
   Improve math placement and save money and time
   Earn FORUM credits*
   Get a 10% discount at the College Store
   Increase your chance of achieving a successful first semester
   Become more confident about your shift from high school to the very different world of college

  *FORUM provides cultural and community extra-classroom learning opportunities to students, and 12 FORUM credits are required to graduate with a degree from BCC. 

Curriculum Developments & Learning Experiences
By design, the strategies to meet the needs of at-risk students expand beyond remediation. The academic areas are math, technology, English, and "Stop Action". Stop Action uses academic lectures on thematic topics in a chosen text to teach study skills in context. Lectures are "stopped" at appropriate intervals to model strategies such as notetaking and to discuss learning styles and test taking techniques. The program also includes more holistic topics, including Career as Student and Wellness, Mind & Body.

When developing the interdisciplinary curriculum for these first-time college students, Project Connect faculty link current and popular themes to social, economic, and environmental issues with academics at the core. For summer 2001 the theme is "Back to the Future" and, chosen for its relevance to Berkshire County, Homer Hickam's October Sky is the required text. The academic components encompass the many perspectives and issues raised by the book, making the program a substantial, cohesive three-credit offering. 

Each summer a different theme and literary work is selected based on community interest and relevance. For summer 2000, Project Connect faculty and students studied Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm, based on life in the struggling fishing industry of Gloucester, Massachusetts. In 1999 Jonathan Harr's A Civil Action was selected as the text. Project Connect faculty invited and secured a formal visit with Mr. Harr to address the community and speak with Project Connect students and faculty during the first week of the fall semester. 

Project Connect Results
The first summer program, August 1999, included 40 entering freshmen and was taught by 22 collaborating faculty. The student persistence rate for Project Connect participants during the fall and spring semesters was 87% compared to 76% for students who did not participate in the program. Year 2000 persistence rates reveal a similarly high rate of 86%. In Year One, 90% of the Project Connect participants improved their math placement when retested. In Year Two, 83% of the participants improved their math placement; of the 83%, more than half (53%) dramatically improved and increased their math placement scores to between three and seven levels higher. These students received more advanced placement and saved up to three semesters of coursework and/or remediation.

In addition to student success, community goals and benefits include ongoing high school/college collaboration. Through surveys and interviews, college and high school faculty participants claim the professional collaboration to be the most positive aspect of their involvement with Project Connect. Faculty feel they gain a better understanding of expectations for college students and view the project as an innovative and creative part of their professional development. Project Connect faculty believe the program constitutes a model for improving academic success and retention and for high school/college partnerships. 

Popular demand and proven success have fueled momentum into Project Connect as the program expands to reach larger audiences. An outreach program, Heads Up, designed and implemented by the Project Connect collaborative team, is currently being piloted in four county high schools and incorporates two components--math and Career as Student--to high school juniors and seniors. Project Success has provided opportunities for at-risk populations in Berkshire County to beat the odds; by expanding, the project will help prepare greater numbers of students for success in college and beyond.

For additional information, please contact: 
Christine Adams or Jean Walden
Project Connect Directors



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